Now Reading
Emma Howard Boyd, Environment Agency’s Emma Howard Boyd, reflects on 2021.

Emma Howard Boyd, Environment Agency’s Emma Howard Boyd, reflects on 2021.


What was your highlight from 2021?

Inspiration is found in the way people have pulled themselves out from the dark, cold lockdown that started the year and gone on to achieve great things. The Environment Agency has responded quickly to thousands of environmental incidents. Our colleagues who volunteer for these duties alongside their day jobs, and those who pick up what’s left behind, represent the best in public service.

The opportunity to tell the world about the EA’s people and work at Cop26 was a big highlight. I was a speaker at 43 events, panels, interviews, and six keynote speeches. We published a report just before Cop26 that described the need to be more prepared for climate shocks. Positioning the comms with the words “adapt or die” secured extensive media coverage that was repeated many times by global leaders at Cop26. 

I also joined the Cabinet Office’s Infrastructure Steering Group to be one of the voices for climate resilient, net zero and nature positive infrastructure. I hope that the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment’s (a flagship Cop26 initiative) new methodology for integrating resilience into infrastructure investment decision making will become integral to the work of the UK government and the newly launched National Infrastructure Bank.

How did your organization tackle the most difficult challenges in 2021?

I visited Greater Manchester with Prime Minister in January. More than 23,000 properties were protected against flooding during Storm Christoph. The prime mnister told the BBC: “What I’m seeing here is the amazing operations that the Environment Agency makes.”

The Environment Agency completed the government’s six-year capital programme on time and on budget, then began the new £5.2bn flood programme and began to put the National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management to 2100 into action. The great opportunity in all this is to make it net-zero and incorporate nature more fully.

During the pandemic, the Environment Agency’s wastewater experts at Starcross laboratory monitored sewage across the country to provide an early warning system of local coronavirus outbreaks. The biggest challenge is the additional demands that the pandemic has placed on the public purse. In May, William Priest’s Value for Money Review concluded that “evidence suggests that the EA is well run, seeks to deliver value for money and is effective in delivering most of its objectives”.

“I continue to concentrate on how to further advance gender diversity in leadership positions in business and public life.”

See Also

What is your top priority in 2022?

Our number one priority is always protecting lives from incidents like flooding, but I’d like to mention water quality. This year, the Environment Agency’s £90m fine against Southern Water for deliberate pollution potentially shifted the dial on the levels of penalties for corporate environmental crime in England. After new checks revealed that water companies could have been releasing unpermitted wastewater into rivers and watercourses, the Environment Agency and Ofwat launched an extensive investigation into over 2,000 sewage treatment plants. Water companies that violate their permits are illegally acting. This is a serious issue of public trust. 

The ground-breaking decision to designate a stretch of the River Wharfe in Yorkshire as a bathing river should be good for nature, people’s health and wellbeing, and a major draw for the tourist economy. Both the private and public sectors should work together to make this initiative a success.
Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?

I am continuing to focus on how to improve gender diversity in leadership roles within business and public life. Mary Robinson, ex-president of Ireland, chaired of The Elders, and a great leader, would be my guest. She was unable to attend Cop26, and she gave her platform to Helena Gualinga, an Amazonian activist. I would like her to join me, to represent the future. 

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.